Ten years ago I was given a great gift. I got to spend five years looking after our kids and working towards my PhD. This meant playing the role of stay-at-home dad, being a ‘male spouse’ at a theological college (I did point out they were called husbands) and in some respects taking a career break while Bridget worked for a church and then went into ordained ministry. I can’t pretend for a moment that it was a struggle. There were the few moments of feeling out of place in playgroups, but mostly it was fine. I can’t pretend for a moment that this was any real sacrifice. It just all happened to fall right. It worked out really well to move to where Bridget trained in Bristol, and then move to the church we are in now in Croydon. In fact, that was part of the decision-making at the time. It was much easier to shape our lives that way – to do things slightly differently in terms of roles. Bridget got to progress through what she needed to do to become a church leader and I got the time to undertake the study I had always wanted to do. I also got to spend a lot more time with the kids than I might otherwise have done – something that I would never want to change.
I often reflect that our decision to shape things this way was based on the fact that the world of work – and Christian work in particular – is structured in favour of men. I know, I am one; I know how it works and what you benefit from. I also see first hand what women in leadership face! I am not going to get into a rant on this. In fact I think I am part of the problem here – more on that later. The point is that it didn’t really cost me to step out of an active leadership role (I was in YFC before doing my PhD). There were certain things that went – less speaking invites, more time at the park. Swings and roundabouts really and the gains far outweighed the give-ups. It was a gift to be able to do what we did. Though for Bridget, studying for ordination and starting a curacy as a mum with young children was a challenge in of itself – and remains so – it was win-win for me. I got to take a break and it wasn’t to the detriment of my ‘career’. I wonder if it would have been different had we done things in reverse – as in the ‘traditional’ sense of Bridget taking the ‘career’ break? Not that this would have suited either of us.
That all seems a lifetime ago now. Life at the moment seems insanely busy. I have a full-time job that requires travel across the UK and occasionally out of the country. I work from home a lot, which means after the kids go to bed that’s often the time to catch up on unanswered emails and unfinished reports. Bridget is Associate Vicar in a large Anglican church; with the pastoral visits, sermon preparation, and meetings that go with this it’s a good job that we have Google calendar. Though I am poor at keeping this up to date! Our kids are eight and nearly ten so in among the homework, swimming lessons, parties and play dates, try getting three days in a row for family meal times! Sometimes it all feels a bit much! Of course most of this is all our choice – yeah I know that. The thing is it has got harder, not easier, to juggle all this – equitably. When I hear the reports and comments about working parents – and the amount that women do in domestic as well as paid labour, I think, for all my pride at the decisions we took ten years ago, we (I) might have slipped into this gender role trap. I find myself revisiting the same issues and challenges we did ten years ago. I wonder what gift will help us through the next ten years!